viernes, 4 de julio de 2014

On Independence Day

Today, we celebrate 238 years since the founders of our country declared the United States an independent nation.  When they did so, it marked the inception of a democratic union, rooted in principles of liberty, equality, self-determination and democratic governance.  It was a bold declaration, and we commemorate it because it marks the beginning of our journey as a nation. 

But when we gather to celebrate our Independence Day, we know that our democracy consists of much more than a single day, a single vital declaration of a few brave patriots.  Instead, it consists of a process – a long, often painful process – of meeting and overcoming serious challenges, and emerging from that process a stronger nation. 

As we celebrate the endurance of our democracy over 238 years, we also must reflect upon the obstacles we have overcome.  We must ask ourselves, when these inevitable challenges arise, what must we do as a people?  What must any nation that aspires to true democracy do to meet these challenges?

President Lincoln had some advice about this very topic.  Since we last celebrated our independence day, we commemorated the 150 year anniversary of President Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address.  In that eloquent speech, delivered amidst the most dire crisis in American history, our Civil War, President Lincoln succinctly expressed how a democratic people must rise to confront threats to democracy. 

Lincoln began his speech with probably the most well-known invocation of the Declaration of Independence in American history:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

He reminded us that thousands had sacrificed their lives fighting for those principles of liberty and equality.  And he said that when confronting a severe threat to our democracy, we, the living, must dedicate ourselves anew to those founding principles.  That we owe it to our forefathers who sacrificed so much, to bear down and redouble our efforts to preserve our democracy.  Or in Lincoln’s immortal words:  that “it is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us . . . that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

President Lincoln, of course, was reflecting upon the Civil War, in which tens of thousands of Americans gave their lives.  But he also was talking about something much larger, something universal – the notion of how citizens of a democracy must respond in the face of challenges if true democracy is to endure.  Democracy is born, but it must be reborn again many times as challenges are met and overcome.

Our democracy was born on the fourth of July, but it has been reborn, many times over the course of our long history – when we fought to end slavery and to preserve our Union in the Civil War, when we battled to defend democracy in the Second World War, when we struggled toward true equality for all Americans during the Civil Rights era, as we have struggled with our own war on poverty – for real socio-economic inclusion and in countless other examples.  In each case, we drew our strength from the principles upon which our democracy was founded – liberty, equality, self-determination – and we resolved that the sacrifices of our predecessors would not be in vain.
   
Our challenges as a nation continue to this day.  We are now emerging from two long and costly wars.  We have weathered a protracted economic downturn.  We have endured rancorous political fights in Washington.  And we must continue to meet these challenges to preserve and strengthen our democracy.

Of course, the hard work of democracy is different everywhere.  And the people of Nicaragua are on their own unique journey.  During the 19th century they fought for independence and unity.  Thirty-five years ago they removed a dictatorship.  They too have fought and emerged from a bloody civil war.  And there have been setbacks as the people of Nicaragua have sought to nurture their young democracy.  Although our circumstances are different, we often share the same strategies to fortify and preserve a fair and just society.  The people of any democracy must draw strength from the principles and values that first inspired them and must ready themselves for the real effort that democracy demands.  We look forward to working with the Nicaraguan people and supporting them as they themselves meet and overcome these challenges.

And so today, yes, we celebrate that day on which we first declared independence.  But we also solemnly remember that democracy does not come easily, that the next momentous challenge is always on the horizon, and that the willingness of a people to dedicate themselves again and again to the hard work of democracy is what makes it successful.

viernes, 13 de junio de 2014

World Anti-Counterfeiting Day

As we have mentioned in the past, counterfeit items such as personal hygiene products, cleaning products, electrical appliances, auto parts, and software can pose significant dangers to ourselves and our families. This month, as we observe World Anti-Counterfeiting Day, I would like to take the opportunity to focus on the threat to human health and safety posed by falsified and substandard medications.

The extent of this problem was illustrated recently by Interpol’s Operation Pangea VII, which shut down 10,600 fake online pharmacies. Counterfeit medications seized during the effort included diet treatments, cancer medication, cold and cough medication, anti-malarials, and drugs for treating high cholesterol.

A robust system of regulation and enforcement gives us confidence to assume that medical remedies are effective and safe. Sadly, there are those who prioritize profit over the health and safety of others, preying on the poor and vulnerable. They do so by intentionally manufacturing or selling medicines that are deliberately and fraudulently mislabeled, that do not contain the correct ingredients, have inadequate quantities of the right ingredients, or have toxic components that are harmful.  Where counterfeit drugs are sold in the marketplace, the poor can find themselves unknowingly spending their limited money for the false promise of treatment. Some studies estimate that fake medicines are responsible for over 700,000 deaths worldwide each year.

It’s been noted recently that overuse and improper dosage of antibiotics here in Nicaragua is contributing to the rise in drug-resistant bacteria. Similarly, forged versions of antibacterials and other drugs that contain insufficient active pharmaceutical ingredients help give rise to drug-resistant strains of bacterial and parasitic agents, making once effective medicines, less effective. Thus, counterfeit medicine has not only an immediate impact on the individual, but a secondary impact on global public health, as the likelihood of microbial resistance is increased, placing the global community at an increased risk to infectious diseases.

So what can we do? Ensuring that the medicine you buy is genuine and not counterfeit requires collaboration and coordination among government sectors and the private sector, increased transparency, accountability, and strengthened regulation. Improved enforcement of the laws that criminalize the production, distribution, and sale of fake medications here in Nicaragua would be a great place to start. Programs to strengthen surveillance of medicines to detect availability of counterfeit and substandard products in the marketplace can provide important local evidence for action. The medical community can help protect public health by buying medical products from reliable sources. This is a battle that everyone must fight together. We all have a stake in its outcome.

viernes, 30 de mayo de 2014

Fiscal Transparency

You may have already heard me or other U.S. government officials talk about the issue of transparency.  All governments should provide their citizens with information about their budget process, their income and their expenditures so that citizens can hold their political leaders accountable for the fiscal decisions they make.  Fiscal transparency allows the average citizen to evaluate if essential services are funded adequately. It is a key element in the battle against corruption.

You may also have seen from media reports that this year there is no need for a waiver in order to provide assistance to specific countries, like Nicaragua, which have failed to meet the State Department’s minimum standard of fiscal transparency. Though some may presume that this change indicates issues of transparency have lost importance, in fact Congress continues to stress the importance of fiscal transparency, requiring, for example, that the Department look more closely at a country’s budget auditing process. 

The Department of State will now issue an annual fiscal transparency report that describes the shortcomings of countries deemed non-transparent.  To put it another way, we’re making our fiscal transparency review process more transparent by making our concerns publicly available.  The new report should be released later this year and will give the public more insight into how we evaluate countries and what our concerns are.

This will help ensure U.S. taxpayer money is being used appropriately.  Also, the reviews provide an opportunity for our embassies around the world to talk to host country authorities about the importance of fiscal transparency.  We stress to all governments that fiscal transparency is essential to greater macroeconomic stability and facilitates better-informed public debates. That is why President Obama started the Open Government Initiative in 2009.

There is no need to wait for the report to come out, however, to learn more about fiscal transparency and why it matters.  Through support from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Institute of Strategic Studies and Public Policy (IEEPP) launched “The Budget is Your Money, Knowing is Your Responsibility” public awareness campaign in November 2013 to help Nicaraguan citizens understand the importance of Nicaragua’s national budget to their economic well-being.  More information is available at the International Budget Partnership website. IEEPP also created a budget observatory website, which provides the public with current and historical information on the national budget at www.nuestropresupuesto.org. I hope you will use these tools so that you can become better informed about your government’s fiscal policy, and become a more effective advocate for sound government management of its finances.

Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton at the Open Government Partnership Opening Session in April 2012 said, “In the 21st century, the United States is convinced that one of the most significant divisions among nations will not be north/south, east/west, religious, or any other category so much as whether they are open or closed societies. We believe that countries with open governments, open economies, and open societies will increasingly flourish. They will become more prosperous, healthier, more secure, and more peaceful." The Open Government Partnership is a new multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. Although this was a State Department initiative, it has gained a momentum of its own with countries all over the world seeing the value of effective and accountable government. The message is clear: good governance, rule of law and fiscal transparency are the paths to success and prosperity. Link to Visit the Open Government Partnership website.

Although the appropriations bill no longer precludes U.S. foreign assistance to countries deemed not to meet the Department’s minimal standards for fiscal transparency, we will continue to make our foreign assistance decisions based on what is in the best interest of the United States, and our evaluation of a country’s fiscal transparency remains an important factor in making those decisions.

viernes, 31 de enero de 2014

Social Entrepreneurship

One of the best parts of being the U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua is the ability to shine a spotlight on the positive changes that are happening here.

It is great to see Nicaragua as a leader in promoting social entrepreneurship that serves as a model for the entire region. In 2011, Agora hosted nine entrepreneurs from Central America, in 2012 it extended its programs into Mexico, and last year it expanded to 13 countries throughout Latin America.  And it keeps growing. 

Tonight we have entrepreneurs from all over Latin America who are finishing Agora Partnerships’ Accelerator program and are eager to return home not only to make their businesses more successful - but to improve social conditions in the process.   Thanks to Agora, these entrepreneurs have spent the week in Nicaragua connecting with mentors, getting technical assistance, and meeting potential investors. This entrepreneurs have businesses that are addressing environmental problems, encouraging greater participation by marginalized groups, and transforming their communities through innovative businesses that incorporate social change as part of their business plan.

I truly believe that entrepreneurship is a way to bring prosperity to many parts of the world.  But entrepreneurs need our support.  Entrepreneurs need effective laws in place to ensure they are competing on a level playing field.  They need mentors and networks that can help them shape and improve their ideas.  They need access to credit and the chance to attract investors.  In order to tackle those challenges government, the international community and the private sector need to work together to ensure that entrepreneurs are given the chance to compete, to grow their businesses, and to enable the benefits of social entrepreneurship to spread throughout the communities in which they invest.   

Part of our task is spreading the message that although Nicaragua may seem an unlikely place, a new type of business culture is growing here.  It’s a business culture that is more inclusive, more innovative, and deserves our attention.   Learning about the backgrounds of this entrepreneurs and the Agora team, you see a pattern emerge.  Bright, innovative people, often with private sector experience who were driven to create businesses that do more than turn a profit.  They’ve adapted the traditional business model to include social responsibility and environmental sustainability as core business principals, and are improving lives every day as result.  You’ll hear them speak of their commitments to improving Latin America and I encourage you to get to know them.

I ask of you to do your part to support the entrepreneurs in your communities and to draw attention to the good work they are doing.  Together we can create the conditions for greater economic prosperity, and send a message to the world that Central America is part of the social entrepreneurship vanguard.

martes, 10 de diciembre de 2013

Every Day is Human Rights Day

On December 10 we mark the vote in the United Nations to ratify the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the historical moment affirmed that all people regardless of the nation where they live are entitled to the same basic human rights. To date, more than 150 countries, including Nicaragua, have ratified this act. Throughout my diplomatic career, I have thought that I have had no more important task than to defend the fundamental human rights and basic dignity of all people.

I am also aware that the protection and advancement of human rights needs more than the signature on a declaration, constitutional guarantees and the existence of good laws on the books. It depends on citizen participation and the willingness of people to defend the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalized against the arrogance of power.

One of the most visible ways citizens participate in governing their countries is through an active civil society. I have been very impressed by the fact that in every corner of Nicaragua, I have met people who give their time and talent to expanding educational opportunities, assisting people living with HIV and AIDS, volunteering as firefighters, improving maternal and child health, diverting young people from dangerous lifestyles, defending the rights of minorities and indigenous people, helping the disabled to reach their potential, combating gender violence and trafficking in persons, exposing corruption and arguing passionately for the freedom of expression. This list could be extended to include many more countless ways civil society is working to strengthen their communities. I am proud of the record of the United States Embassy to support these efforts.

However, I am concerned by the shrinking operational space and increasing challenges many civil society organizations and activists face in Nicaragua and worldwide.    We need to ensure these voices can be heard in every country.  Independent civil society organizations deserve both the full support of the citizenry, and the cooperation of governments.

This Human Rights Day, let’s remember that government should rest in the hands of the people.   We have seen monumental figures like Nelson Mandela who have pushed societies to advance in this realm, but protecting fundamental rights needs to be nourished by daily efforts, big and small, by people from all walks of life. Let us never forget that an injustice to any person, diminishes justice for all.

viernes, 22 de noviembre de 2013

National Entrepreneurs’ Day

President Obama has declared November 22 to be National Entrepreneurs’ Day, a day to commemorate the strongly positive impact that entrepreneurs have had on the growth of the American economy. The word “entrepreneur” brings to mind the names of independent individuals who, starting with little more than a good idea, build businesses large and small that help keep the United States prosperous and at the vanguard of innovation. Yet if we look carefully at the careers of successful entrepreneurs, we often find that they were able to take advantage of government programs and an enabling business environment to bring their good ideas to fruition.

For this reason, the Obama Administration has launched several initiatives that can give entrepreneurs a boost. Last year’s Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act made changes to our security laws that will make it easier for entrepreneurs to use crowdfunding websites to help grow their businesses. The White House Startup America initiative seeks to unlock access to capital, connect mentors and education to entrepreneurs, reduce barriers and make government work for entrepreneurs, accelerate innovation from “lab to market” for breakthrough technologies, and unleash market opportunities in industries like healthcare, clean energy, and education. The President also signed an Executive Order that makes it easier for entrepreneurs to gain access to government-held data that can help them develop new products and services.

At Embassy Managua we are doing our part to promote and support entrepreneurship here in Nicaragua. This week we are hosting a seminar for 50 young Nicaraguan business leaders to help them develop some of the skills they will need to succeed in the business world. English language students in our Embassy-sponsored ACCESS program participated in StartUp Weekend, and one of them won third prize for designing a website to sell Nicaraguan art in the United States. Our Peace Corps volunteers have helped design and teach an entrepreneurship course to raise awareness of entrepreneurship in Nicaragua, which has been added to the national secondary school curriculum, organized an entrepreneurship congress, and a Nicaragua-wide business competition.

Governments in developing countries like Nicaragua must help pave the way for entrepreneurs. The recent World Bank study Doing Business 2014 pointed that in too many countries the amount of time it takes to obtain the necessary approvals to start a business can be a month or more. Obtaining construction permits where needed takes up to a year, ; registering a property can consume many more weeks, as can obtaining electric service. These delays make it very expensive to start a business , and discourage many would-be entrepreneurs. In such countries, the government and the business community should work together to reduce this red tape while maintaining appropriate regulatory oversight.

So while entrepreneurs are the sparks that ignite successful businesses, we all have a role to play in helping ensure that these sparks turn into flames. As President Obama said in his proclamation declaring November to be National Entrepreneurship Month, “Let us come together and help aspiring entrepreneurs take a chance on themselves and their visions for a brighter future”.

viernes, 8 de noviembre de 2013

Veterans Day

Every year on November 11, the United States recognizes the contributions and sacrifices that our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines continue to make in distant lands away from family and friends.  I personally served side-by-side with many of these men and women during my time in Iraq, and I know firsthand the sacrifices they continually make in service to our country.

U.S. Veteran’s Day coincides with the holidays of Armistice Day and Remembrance Day in many countries around the world.  This date marks the anniversary of the end of World War I.   At 11 am on 11 November 1918 – "the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" – a ceasefire came into effect ending what was at the time called “The Great War.”  November 11 is a time when much of the world remembers those who have sacrificed their lives for their country.

In the United States, Veteran’s Day is a day for us to thank those who have served and continue to serve our country and a day for us to remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in the name of liberty.  Every year on November 11, the President of the United States lays a wreath at the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” at Arlington National Cemetery.  This monument is dedicated to the services of unidentified soldiers killed in wars and also to the common memories of all soldiers killed in any war.

As I reflect back this Veteran’s Day, I cannot help but think of my time in Iraq.  During my service there I worked with Navy Captain (retired) Stephen Farley.  Captain Farley came from a family that valued military service -- a member of the Farley family had served in the U.S. military since the time of the revolutionary war.  Captain Farley was first assigned to Iraq in his capacity as a Navy Captain.  When he left Iraq and retired from the Navy, he felt there was still more that he could do to help the Iraqi people with their reconstruction efforts so he immediately applied to serve as a Senior Governance Specialist and returned to Iraq in a civilian capacity less than six weeks after his departure and subsequent retirement. Captain Farley was well respected by all of his colleagues.  He worked tirelessly with the Iraqi people to assist them in making their country better for all.  In June of 2008 while at a meeting in a municipal building in Sadr City, Captain Farley, along with three other dedicated Americans, was killed when a bomb ripped through the building.  He gave the ultimate sacrifice not only for his country, but for the people of Iraq – people who were not so different from any of us who wanted a better life and future for themselves and their families. 

Veteran’s Day gives us all the opportunity to reflect on the benefits of democracy and its costs.  Democracy, unfortunately, has never been free, and all of us have a role and responsibility to protect the freedoms that veterans fought so hard to preserve.